Making S.M.A.R.T. goals can help you keep your New Year’s resolutions

Only 20% of New Year’s resolutions succeed, not because people choose unrealistic goals, but because they don’t come up with realistic ways to achieve them. S.M.A.R.T. goals simplify your desired health and wellbeing objectives to make them practical and attainable. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Adding these elements to each of your resolutions can help you stay on track.

For example, “losing weight,” “lowering blood pressure,” or “improving heart health” are difficult New Year’s resolutions to achieve because they are very general and don’t follow the S.M.A.R.T. criteria.  Here are the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines in detail, along with a few helpful examples:

S = Specific

Without being specific, it’s difficult to know when your goals have been met, if at all, and you can set yourself up for disappointment.

Rather than setting a goal that states, “I want to lower my blood pressure,” instead try “I want to lower my blood pressure to the normal range.” Normal is less than 120 mmHG over 80 mmHG. These are specific numbers for systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

If you don’t set specific numbers for a health goal like blood pressure, then you could discourage yourself from reaching the goal due to a lack of details.

M = Measurable

Setting a measurable goal means that concrete evidence is required to achieve the goal. Lowering your blood pressure to a normal range is a great example of a measurable S.M.A.R.T. goal because blood pressure readings can be easily obtained. To  achieve healthier blood pressure levels, doctors recommend home monitoring in addition to less frequent, routine checks at clinic appointments. Keeping your blood pressure top of mind through regular monitoring will ultimately spark a new pattern of healthy behaviors in your lifestyle. When goals are specific and measurable, they’re also attainable.

A = Attainable

To look like Captain America, actor Chris Evans worked out with highly-trained professional trainers at least two hours a day. Most of us don’t have the time, money and resources to follow that kind of regime. So if your goal is to look like Captain America or a runway model, you may be setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointment.

Studies suggest focusing on smaller goals will lead to more success—not only in achieving the goal, but in the quality of the results. For example:

  • Three pounds of weight loss is not only more achievable than 40, but it can significantly reduce blood cholesterol
  • Three, ten-minute bouts of exercise offer many of the same benefits as a single, 30-minute session
  • Two minutes of walking between periods of sitting can lower blood glucose by almost 30%
  • Losing four pounds in four years can reduce blood pressure risk by 25%

(Source: How New Year’s Resolutions Succeed or Fail, Psychology Today)

“I will exercise thirty minutes a day” or “I will lose three pounds” are much more attainable goals for most people.

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This doesn’t mean you need to stop after reaching your smaller goals. It suggests that breaking your goals up into smaller segments leads to more success while building better habits. Success feels good, too! That feeling of achievement after reaching attainable goals helps them feel more relevant.

R = Relevant

If you’re not passionate about your goals, you will have little defense against impatience and the inevitable ups and downs throughout your journey. Setting health goals to please someone else, for example, can give you a lot less motivation than would personal satisfaction. Experts suggest asking,

  • What’s the source of my goal?
  • Why is it important?
  • How would achieving this goal affect my life in other ways?

Writing these thoughts down and visualizing the results will help them feel even more realistic and relevant.

T = Timebound

Without a deadline, you can feel less motivated or accountable to work toward your goals. And when timelines are unrealistic, they can set you up for disappointment, or worse, danger. Losing 20 pounds in one month, for example, is nearly impossible without a near-starvation diet. On the other hand, having no timeline at all doesn’t establish the accountability and discipline you may need to achieve your goal.

Setting a realistic timeframe can be tricky
One UCLA study found that with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, men were able to reduce their blood pressure significantly in three weeks, even reducing their need for blood pressure medication. An attainable goal might be to lower blood pressure by a specific amount within five weeks. This  type of goal  requires a doctor’s advice.

It takes a reduction of about 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet to lose one or two pounds a week. You want to be careful to continue eating healthily, including getting enough protein (and even better, protein plus strength training), to make sure you burn unhealthy fat rather than depleting healthy muscle. Checking your body composition in addition to your weight is a more realistic way to see where and how you’re losing pounds.

Setting small and attainable goals with their own timeframes can help
Initial weight loss, for example, can be faster, so if your goal is to lose 15 pounds in three months, you might benefit from dividing it into separate goals, like seven pounds in month 1 and four pounds for months 2 and 3.

For health goals, talk to your doctor and research reliable sources like academic literature   from respected health care institutions to set healthy and realistic timeframes for your goals.

Make positive change a year-round goal

Setting a New Year’s resolution is a worthy intention. Striving for lasting change and better habits makes S.M.A.R.T. resolutions part of your everyday life.

— Update: 31-12-2022 — found an additional article Get SMART: How SMART Goal Setting Can Help You Reach Your Health Goals from the website for the keyword hypertension smart goals.

When it comes to wellness, many people commonly set individual health goals, such as engaging in regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, moderating alcohol intake, and following a consistent dietary supplement regimen. Whether your health goals include improving your general well-being or achieving a specific health outcome, consistently following a wellness plan for an extended period of time is both challenging and essential to achieving results.

A strategy known as SMART goal setting can help you plan your goals and potentially be more successful with your health goals. In this article, we provide an overview of the SMART goals approach as well as tips to implement the SMART goals template for your unique wellness and health goals.

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What are health goals?

The definition of health goals broadly includes determining a desirable state of affairs in terms of health promotion and/or disease prevention. (6) Health goals may be applicable to individuals or to a group, such as with government health policy. On the individual level, fitness and health goals include those you set for yourself, as well as any protocol that has been developed with your healthcare provider(s).

Individual health goals may target various aspects of health, including:

  • Disease management
  • Disease prevention or risk reduction
  • Mental health and well-being
  • Physical health and fitness
  • Substance use (e.g., alcohol, recreational drugs, tobacco)
  • Weight management

Hypertension smart goalsSocial support from family and friends may help you stay on track with your health goals. (4)

What are SMART goals?

Developed in 1981 by George T. Doran, SMART goals are a set of criteria that was originally created to improve management goals and objectives. (2) Since then, the concept has been applied to areas outside of the workforce, including personal and health goals.

The SMART goals acronym represents five criteria that can be used to improve an individual’s success in meeting their goals, which include:

  • Specific: the goal targets a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable: the goal quantifies or suggests an indicator of progress
  • Attainable: the goal is achievable
  • Realistic: the goal states which results can be realistically achieved based on resources
  • Time-related: the goal specifies when the result(s) can be achieved (2)(5)

SMART goals examples

To illustrate the concept, let’s consider SMART goal setting applied to a goal of decreasing elevated blood pressure levels.

  • Specific: you aim to reduce blood pressure levels to less than 120 mmHg/80 mmHg
  • Measurable: your progress is measured with weekly blood pressure measurements
  • Attainable: your healthcare provider agrees that the target blood pressure levels can be achieved based on the recommended treatment protocol
  • Realistic: the recommended protocol, which includes dietary supplements, dietary changes, and exercise, is realistic to incorporate within your lifestyle
  • Time-related: you set a time frame of six weeks

In the example above, a health goal that may be considered less effective would be “I will reduce my blood pressure levels.” In comparison, the SMART goal becomes “I will reduce my blood pressure levels to less than 120 mmHg/80 mmHg within six weeks. I will do so by following my diet and supplement protocol, and I will monitor my progress by measuring my blood pressure every Friday.” Your healthcare practitioner can help you determine an attainable goal and advise on the interventions that will help you achieve the goal.

Applying the SMART goals template to your health goals

Keep the SMART goals criteria in mind when working with your practitioner to develop your wellness plan. Research suggests that when a healthcare plan is tailored to the individual, adherence to the plan is higher.

One study examined the effects of oral nutrition supplements (ONS) in hospital outpatients. The majority of patients included in the trial were able to select the flavor of ONS prescribed. Results demonstrate that adherence to the supplement protocol was high at over 76%. The researchers suggest that the high adherence rate was partly due to healthcare practitioners individually tailoring prescriptions, as well as the individuals having positive experiences with the ONS. (3)Hypertension smart goalsYour healthcare practitioner can help you determine an attainable goal and advise on the interventions that will help you achieve the goal.

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6 tips for SMART goal setting

To help you get started with SMART goal setting and achieve your health goals, we provide some tips below.

1. Narrow your goal down to one Specific health factor.

Setting a goal to “improve physical fitness”, for example, may be too vague or general. In this case, you can ask yourself “which factor of fitness is most important to me?” The response may be something like achieving a healthy weight in order to feel more comfortable or improving cardiovascular endurance to participate in a race. Use your response to this question to determine a specific area for improvement.

2. Determine how you’ll Measure your progress regularly—and do it!

Measuring your progress may include using a wellness app for tracking your health behaviors and progress, tracking progress manually in a calendar, using a wearable device such as a step counter, or setting regular follow-up appointments to check in with your practitioner.

A study on long-term adherence to calcium and vitamin D supplementation evaluated the impact of a patient motivation strategy consisting of follow-up visits every six months. The results suggest that scheduling follow-up visits every six months was associated with increased adherence to the supplement regimen. (1)

3. Consult with your integrative healthcare practitioner(s) about what is Attainable.

Your healthcare team is the best resource to help you prioritize your individual needs based on their knowledge and clinical expertise. They can also advise you as to whether or not your health goal is achievable or should be modified in some way.

4. Consider whether your plan is Realistic based on your schedule and available resources.

Look at your weekly schedule and decide how much time you can dedicate to the activities involved in your health goals, such as doing groceries, preparing meals, and exercising. You may find it helpful to actually schedule the activity, so if something comes up, your dedicated time to work towards your health goal is protected. You should also keep in mind the tangible things that you might need, such as particular exercise equipment, kitchen equipment, or a membership for a program or facility such as a gym or yoga studio. If what you require is not realistic to obtain, you can make adjustments to your goal.

5. Remember that the Time-related aspect is only a guideline.

There may be times that you are not progressing toward your health goal as quickly as you’d like. Be patient with yourself and remember that even carving out five minutes of time to work on your goal is considered a step in the right direction.

6. Seek social support from your family members and loved ones.

Family and friends may be able to support you with your health goals by helping you stay motivated and engaged. Having social support while making dietary or lifestyle changes can also make the transition easier.

A study examined the impact of a supportive partner on adherence to a dietary supplement protocol in pregnant women. Participants in the study who had social support at home reported higher adherence support, which was positively associated with calcium supplementation adherence. (4)

Download a handout on goal-setting strategies.

The bottom line

Setting wellness goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-related (SMART goals) may help increase your success. When applying SMART goal setting and working toward your health goals, consider implementing the tips included in this article.

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About the Author: Tung Chi